Dith Pran • 30 March 2008

 Cloudy Window

There was a little morning sea mist over Santa Monica the other morning. I saw it out the secondstory window, gathering up my things in a fix after our very early Sunday practice (shhhh…). The mist hung in between the big hairy tops of the palm trees all fifteen blocks to the ocean, sketching in the distance between me and them. The closer trees made a stark shadow against the heavy air, but the further ones were sketchier and sketchier until, maybe 14 blocks out, they just disappeared into white.

Looking out, stoned receptive on sun salutations and all that, I had the strongest jolt of recollection from a decade ago.

Sitting atop a hill in the middle of Cambodian countryside, between my brilliant boyfriend and a traveling partner very quickly losing her mind. January 1998. Dazed in heat and history, still reeling from Tuol Sleng. That hilltop covered in a fort from the war—turrets and everything—probably build to fend off the Vietnamese back in the day. It was the height of the currency crisis and weeks before Nate Thayer would find Pol Pot out in hinterlands not so far from there, speaking up to “set the record straight” just before he fucking bit it.

The palms in mist drew the sensations of that day back on me suddenly, slipping out of my spine like the remnant of some old “trip.” I was thinking, sitting on that hill, of a field of dandelions gone to seed—the nearer palms in a heavy outline, the farther ones marking off the short distance to obscurity. But not a fertile summer field beneath those “flowers”: instead landmines, the horror of a collectively-suppressed memory, corpses, maybe battle lines, little source of commerce or sustenance.

It is ridiculous, the beauty and the peace, the utter possibilities and joy that are in my life here. I don’t understand how hard it could be—don’t understand at all.

I wasn’t going ot mention this, but Anna told me Dith Pran died today. Read on.

7 Comments

  • Posted 31 March 2008 at 1:50 am | #

    I thought it was fun to be in the army part-time, the only designer, until the sergeants discussed medical triage, and showed pictures of vietnam injury, and to see them choke up describing what they had seen first-hand, and how the had to deal with it.
    If the cause is great, intense compassion and the energy of a reactor seem to come online. Though I feel Dith Pran would not wish that on anyone, I think it is in us all.

  • Posted 31 March 2008 at 1:39 pm | #

    Makes us grateful. Puts the small stuff and even some of the bigger challenges and decisions into perspective.

    I think your experience in Cambodia falls under the category of bearing witness. Would love to talk to you about it in person.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Posted 31 March 2008 at 3:39 pm | #

    Your picture made me miss S’Monica… 🙁 Good story…..

  • Posted 31 March 2008 at 4:58 pm | #

    Heard Schanberg on NPR after practice, talking about his visit to Dith on Saturday night. They didn’t say goodbye. Dith just said to Sydney, when he left, “I’ll send you my dreams.” And Sydney said, “I’ll send you my dreams too.”

    This stuff just wants to open a very large space of despair and hope inside of my chest or something. I don’t know how to describe it. I guess just going to Tuol Sleng is a kind of bearing witness, though it’s easy not to let it penetrate you. Even though there are skulls nailed to the walls. Oh humanity. We are capable of so many different paths.

    Gregor, yours has been a big question for me since I was a kid. Sometimes I let it go—dismissing the idea of “human nature” and any meaning to “character” and “choice”—but the question returns. It is a good one. Your reflection about this does resonate… it IS a hard task for the individuation process!

  • e&sj
    Posted 31 March 2008 at 8:41 pm | #

    Great movie for gratefulness… and tears – its a sad one: “Fighting For Life” that is in limited distribution. A fellow ashtangi did some of the work on it (interviews at the military hospital in Germany). Its a strange mix of heroism in the midst of nonsensical horror.

    http://www.fightingforlifethemovie.com/synopsis.html

  • Posted 1 April 2008 at 3:31 am | #

    God. Driving ambulance at the apocalypse, or close to it. The scenes of oath-taking, the normalization of an insanely “not normal” situation: this is amazing, and happens to harmonize with my sociological ideas about the nature of many modern organizations. (Bear Stearns, Countrywide, utility companies: bloodless, dehumanized versions of a similar overall logic.)

    Well produced, too. Goes on my list of teaching tools. Thanks—-

  • Posted 1 April 2008 at 10:53 pm | #

    And so…

    Did you read ‘The Road’ yet?

    It might help crystalise that long scary wish. Or it might just make you cry. But like me, it would probably do both… and there’s the rub.

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